Given their contentious recent history, blocking Google alone might be enough reason for Apple to pick up Hulu. Despite trying to leverage the enormous popularity of YouTube into video rentals, Google has failed to establish a serious presence in the TV and movie delivery business. The company tried to launch its platform for set-top boxes, Google TV, last year, but the first device to appear was widely considered a flop. There’s little question that Google’s mobile platform trails behind Apple’s in terms of media; Google only recently launched its own service for delivering media to Android devices.
Right now, Apple is the undisputed leader in delivering digital content to mobile devices, and that’s a position that it would do well to hold onto. Not only would buying Hulu strengthen Apple’s position against rivals looking to get into the video distribution game, but, given Hulu’s existing partnerships with other third parties, Apple could also potentially strike blows against current licensees like Microsoft (on the Xbox 360), Sony (on the PlayStation 3 as well as Blu-ray players and TV sets), Roku, Samsung, and others.
Make no bones about it, there’s a zero-sum game here: Hulu’s owners are looking to divest themselves of the company and if Apple doesn’t buy it, someone else will—and then it might very well be Cupertino who gets the short end of the stick.
(Image Caption: Hulu's somewhat bizarre device licensing wouldn't fly at Apple.)
Of course, Hulu clearly has its own problems; being acquired by Apple might be beneficial for the company, which has seen its share of friction between management and ownership. The content providers have increasingly hamstrung the service’s offerings; whereas it was once a simple matter to find and watch a show, consumers now have to contend with availability windows and Byzantine restrictions about which devices they can watch on.
That wouldn’t fly under Apple rule. Devices are the company’s bread-and-butter, and I’d bet heavily that expanded licensing for streaming to devices would be a big part of any deal Apple tried to strike with Hulu’s owners. A streaming service whose prime focus is the Web wouldn’t fit very well with Apple’s business, but streaming TV shows to the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Apple TV—well, that could prove very attractive indeed.